Thoughts on Mintfest, Lakes Alive: From Firey Villages to Kendal Mint Cake

Both myself and fellow Rough Magic Theatre performer Tim Austin attended Mintfest in Kendal as X-Trax Delegates.  This gave us the opportunity to tell lots of very useful people like festival bookers etc. about our work and the shows that we do.  We also got to meet lots of fellow artists and performers and of course to see the shows at the festival.

Sometimes it can be quite hard to get a chance to see fellow performers work if you are always performing at the same festivals and this was a great opportunity to see what other people are doing.

We saw “Frolicked” do their new show “The Alchemist” which is apparently their first static puppetry show.  Up until now they have been concentrating on strolling puppet characters, (and of course their recent foray into interactive performance/gaming “The Birds”).  It was very accessible being largely without spoken words, but relied on the written word for a lot of the plot/jokes, (e.g. identical spray bottles saying respectively “No Fly” and “Grow Big”).  Overall it was very light, charming and gently amusing and of course the puppets were beautifully made.  It seemed quite short to me, but then that can be better for children.  It would have been good to have had more audience reaction to the antics of the rats, (after the style of crocodile stealing Mr. Punch’s sausages)but I don’t know if that was more to do with the audience itself or the style of the performance.

The Fire Village Royale by Der Vurmeesters was the highlight, for me.  This was in spite of the pervasive soaking drizzle on the Friday night when we went to see it.  It was like a sort of medieval, magical, firey village full of various odd characters interacting with fire and fireworks in various ways.  One lady liked to rest her feet in a water trough periodically before manipulating it so that the whole length of the trough burst into flames.  Another fairy like person who was a guardian of a metal gate (which was set on fire)liked to do hula-hooping and (yes, you’ve guessed it) the hula hoop was also on fire!  Between the sort of “set pieces” which were cordoned off, various people wandered backwards and forwards, some on marvellous bicycles and some on foot.  The most spectacular was a man in a mask that sat on top of his head,( so he appeared extra tall).  He was in the habit of setting his head on fire so it was just a firey skull and also had a firey sword.

After being presented with sparklers by an excitable Alchemist looking chap, we were rather alarmed when the firey headed man decided to walk straight at us.  We understandably backed away, but then he presented his sword for us to light our sparklers from.  I don’t think I would have enjoyed it half as much if that hadn’t happened.  It made us feel really part of what was going on, rather than just being a spectator.

There was also a body puppet which was entirely on fire, which I assume was a metal structure with fire rope attached, and this figure was controlled by the walking motion of the operator who was at least a metre behind the burning figure.  You can see it in the video below.  The music and beautiful lanterns also contributed greatly to the magical atmosphere.

As this is meant to be a puppet-centric blog I have mentioned the two main events with puppetry that we saw, not forgetting Squashbox‘s Dinosaur puppet and a cave-man humanette for their “Stones & Bones” show.  A very amusing little show which was remarkable for the amount included in a one man show.  Craig Johnson, the performer coped heroically well with the incredible amount of bad-mannered people who decided that it was okay to try and get past by squeezing their way through his backstage area, (no innuendo intended).  He used the old favourite joke, “It’s just a stage they’re going through”.  Also ironically one elderly lady emerged from the set just as Craig had promised to produce a dinosaur from behind the scenes!

Although I saw an incredible amount of fantastic theatre and enjoyed the festival tremendously, Tim and myself found ourselves getting increasingly frustrated and angry about the behaviour of some of the audience members( both adults and children).  Hardly any parents were exerting any influence on their children to keep them safe and out of the performers way during dangerous acts, or to stop them misbehaving and causing danger to the performers by throwing things into the performance area, or to stop them standing up and moving around constantly and blocking other people’s view.  Then there were the adults, as aforementioned who hadn’t any problems with walking straight through people’s performance spaces while they were actually in the middle of a performance.  It all seemed to indicate a lack of concern for others which was somewhat disheartening to see.  Some parents, (and I have heard from other performers that this is not unusual) were actually encouraging their children to hit Artizani’s giant inflatable lobster which was perambulating about Abbot Hall Park.

One could argue that it was a sign of the success of the festival that it encouraged those not used to the conventions of theatre to experience good quality performance, and maybe this is simply a feature of any street arts festival on this scale.  On the other hand that doesn’t mean that I have to condone this kind of behaviour or to like it.  If you have any opinions or experiences of this kind of behaviour or anything else in the post, please leave a comment 🙂

We now have video footage of our popular Shadow Puppet Suitcase show “Jabberwocky!” on our website, click HERE to take a look!  This show is available for Halloween events this year and we have a variety of other options available for Halloween as well, (please ask!)

Don’t forget you can see us at “That’s the Way to Do It” festival in Redcar, on Sunday doing our “Alice” show and introducing the strange monster that lives in the Rough Magic Theatre shed.  See the WHERE YOU CAN SEE ME page for more details.

If you’ve noticed I haven’t mentioned the Kendal Mint Cake, take a look here to see more about Richard Dedomenici’s attempts at building a full sized Kendal Mint Cake igloo.

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Mintfest, Lakes Alive: From Firey Villages to Kendal Mint Cake

    • Thankyou very much. Sorry you had trouble. I wonder if there is a cut off length on the comments? Please feel free to try again as I’d be interested to know what you had to say 🙂

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